5. How do students understand Inquisition documents?
Because these cases are in Spanish, I generally describe them in my teaching more than presenting them with the transcription. The transcriptions are long, and so it would be difficult to get through it especially in an in-class exercise. I often assign them an article about an Inquisition case, or I might present them with the bare facts of the case. They can also bring their knowledge of slavery and servitude, of social hierarchy to bear on their reading of my description of the case.
The way that I get students to break free of preconceived notions about the way a courtroom might work by giving them a lot of background on the Inquisition. The Inquisition, while it seems like a court that might be familiar from watching TV, is a court in which people are examined about their practice of Christianity.
You dont want students to come to conclusions based on 20th-century ideas about psychology or human nature. It is important to get students to talk a lot about the context.
So this is something thats really removed from students experience. The cases themselves furnish students with a very good way of getting into the 17th-century mindset. Students pretty readily get the idea that the person may have renounced deliberately in order to get to the Inquisition.
One of the things that they notice is that the whole case is framed in this formulaic language. There are certain questions that inquisitors ask accusers and also people who are accused. Gertrudis, because she was a minor, was assigned a lawyer, so theres certain language that a lawyer says in response to certain questions. And they sort of quizzed her to be able to see if she could say certain prayers.
Its important to look at these cases in the aggregate. If you look at one Inquisition case, you wouldnt notice these universal aspects that occur. Students get to think about how transparent information is, how to weigh these issues of production and reception, and how they have to interpret statements based on the larger context.
Another way to get them to think about how different this situation is from the 21st century is by having them think about the punishments. People were punished publicly. Gertrudis was paraded through the streets as a way to publicly humiliate her. People who were convicted by the Inquisition had to wear certain clothes that indicated that they were being punished. Gertrudiss cousins say to her, Were sending you to this sugar mill thats way out in the country so that you dont have to suffer the humiliation of having people see you on their way to mass.
One thing thats useful for students is to compare two different testimonies. So if you give them Juana de la Cruzs testimony and if you give them Gertrudiss testimony, you can look at different details. In Juanas testimony, she talks about how Gertrudis had committed an infraction. Juana punished her by using a scourge which nuns in the convent used for their own penitences. She says she used this to whip Gertrudis with her very little strength, con su poca fuerza.
Juana goes on to say that as the punishment began, Gertrudis showed herself to be rebellious and that she renounced God and His saints. Juana goes on to say that she and the other nuns were very frightened by this terrible outburst of Gertrudis, but she hadnt realized that Gertrudis had said this, so she continued the beating. After Gertrudis renounced several more times, Juana finally stopped the beatings. Its significant actually that Juana says, Well with my little strength. Its a way for her to say, Im a good woman. Im occupying the gender roles that Im supposed to occupy, and Gertrudis, shes terribly rebellious, and shes not occupying the social position that shes supposed to occupy.
Then if you show them Gertrudiss testimony, Gertrudis again emphasizes the severity of the beating and how harsh it was. She said twice that she would have to renounce even though she was a very good Christian. Theyre telling the same story in some ways but theyre inflecting it differently. You can ask students why might they be telling the story different, just in this very specific context. Think about the larger social structure of New Spain. Well, what is it like to be a white woman in New Spain? What is it like to be a mulatto woman in New Spain? From this story, you can tell something about life inside the conventthat nuns have servants and that nuns might be beating these servants.
When I first saw this kind of renunciation case, I found it surprising that the Inquisition would be taking the reports and also the actions of slaves and servants so seriously. The Inquisition in some ways functions as a forum in which people can indirectly complain about their masters. That the inquisitors took it seriously enough to mount a case, to call witnesses, to assign Gertrudis a lawyer. This is a good thing for students to think aboutwhy is the Inquisition so interested in this kind of case? It helps dispel the idea, first of all, that slaves and servants had absolutely no advocates, and that also they were living in some kind of world that was totally separate from the world of their masters or owners.